What is Multitasking?
A well-known myth suggests that women’s brains are more hardwired for multitasking compared to men. The theory behind this has suggested that the right and left sides of the cerebral cortex are more densely connected in women which bridges the connections between the sides more effectively. This suggests that women take less time to switch between tasks and require less brain resources to do it.
However, what if all this hype about multitasking is actually harming us? In modern society there is so much noise and distractions that focusing on any task can be difficult let alone multiple tasks at once. In fact, some studies have shown that multitasking instead reduces performance in both genders, increases stress and in some situations poses potential safety risks. So why are we still encouraging people to multitask as a way of increasing productivity?
Neuroscience has also shown that the real myth is that we are multitasking at all. In fact, we are switching tasks quickly in a stop/start process that instead of saving time increases mistakes, efficiency and energy. Switch tasking is jumping between unrelated tasks and by doing this, you are unknowingly putting the quality of your work at risk. Some claims even suggest that it lowers your productivity by almost 40%.
So what are the alternatives? Develop a more focused approach to organizing ourselves so we don’t fall into the trap of multitasking.
Here are some tips for making positive changes in your productivity instead.
Start your week with Goal Setting
One of the most important things to help you avoid the trap of multitasking and being overwhelmed by too many pulls on your time, is to start each week by setting goals. To do this, dedicate 30-minutes to an hour for setting goals and prioritising them according to importance. This can be used for work or home so that you make time to schedule in the things that are actually important to you.
Schedule in Time Blocks
Once you have created your weekly goals and to-do list, the next step is to start scheduling your time. Using time blocks improve productivity because they keep you focused on your priorities. First, you will need to identify your highest-priority tasks each day and consider the amount of time you can realistically commit to them. As everyone is different, think about how you work best. Are you more productive if you work in 30-minute blocks or if you dedicate 2 – 3 hours to larger tasks? Create a schedule that works best for you as it will be easier to stick to.
During your scheduled time, remember you are completely focused on only this task. Work on finishing as much of the task as you can during the time block. Stay focused no matter how urgent something may seem. No Facebook and definitely no checking your phone!
When you have finished your time block, take a break and enjoy your free time. Through the process of setting goals, ranking priorities and blocking time for what is important you will be able to get more done with less stress. As with anything, practicing this technique will improve your ability to focus and make removing and ignoring potential distractions easier. Another key benefit is that over time, scheduling and accurately budgeting your time will become easier for you.
Focusing on one task at a time and reducing distractions can improve productivity and efficiency. While the lure of multitasking can be tempting, it is important to remove all distractions before getting to work. Distractions don’t have to be only social media, your mobile or other obvious attention grabbers. This also includes closing all windows or open apps on your laptop if they are not directly related to what you are working on right now. If your goal is to finish a presentation, then you don’t need other reports or spreadsheets open.
This is also relevant for those of us attempting to find a work/life balance or spend quality time with our families. If instead of quality time, we are physically present and mentally switching tasks between playing with our kids and checking our emails we are lowering the quality with both.
Group Similar Tasks Together
One of the reasons that multitasking is so distracting is that it is difficult to focus on one task and then switch to an entirely new one. To make this change easier, group similar projects or tasks together when your scheduling. For example, schedule your meetings all on the same day of the week or plan to complete all your social media or marketing design work together. According to research, grouping similar tasks makes you more likely to complete them.
Automate, Automate, Automate!
Ever feel like there are a million little things you need to remember throughout the week? Continuously writing yourself post-it notes, or to-do lists that keep growing? Stop! All these little tasks can distract, take up unnecessary brain power and cause extra stress. They also play havoc with our attempts to stay focused in our block time because they pop into our heads at all hours. Take a look at how you can automate some of these to make your life simpler. Could you set up auto payments on some of your regular bills? Ask for monthly invoices instead of struggling to remember weekly cash payments. Order your groceries online to be delivered? Speak to your spouse or children about jobs they can be responsible for in the house.
Sometimes you Need to Focus on the Quick Win
Finally, even the best planning cannot cover every contingency. We all have those days where we just can’t seem to get focused, or something comes up to derail us and we feel like we’re switching from task to task despite all our organisation. On these days, cut yourself a break. We all have necessary tasks that do not require as much critical thinking so focus on these. The act of focusing on mundane tasks actually works to centre your brain and will help you to start thinking clearly again. Plus, everyone can appreciate a few quick wins by clearing some easy tasks off the to-do-list! But remember to come back to your block time as soon as you are ready!
So say goodbye to multitasking and hello to block-tasking and a more productive you!
I would love to hear how it works for you or if you have any other organizing tips you live by.